Homelessness in India has been a problem for centuries; causing the average family to have an average of five generations being homeless. People living on the streets, in prison, in an institution, or sleeping in other places not meant to be adequate nighttime residences constitute the homeless population. Homeless people are the victims of every problem and this condition is a root cause of several problems. Even in the National Capital of the Country, Delhi no census or government body can put a number on the homeless population. The city lights tends to attract people from different parts with dreams to accomplish, many of such migratory population settles down but initially a large number of such population do not have any shelter and settles down in public place. To tackle the problem of homelessness the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) formed under the DUSIB Act 2010, introduced Night Shelters (Raein Baseras) across the city for providing shelters to the homeless people and protecting them from the vagaries of harsh and extreme climate of Delhi. DUSIB is running 197 permanent/temporary Night Shelters (Raein Baseras) across the city; these shelters have a capacity of 19,000. Only 86 of these are permanent structures, rest are portable cabins. The management and control of all the permanent Night Shelters have been allotted to the NGOs by the DUSIB. A good initiative taken by the Delhi Government to tackle the problem of homelessness, but simply providing a roof over the heads of these people is no solution to the problem these shelters have to be maintained and checked upon on a regular basis to keep the conditions of these shelters livable, which is where the government lags.
This paper throws light on the reality of the Night Shelters in Delhi, and puts forward the problems people go through and the condition of survival. To validate my findings and get a fairer idea of the condition in these shelters the research is not just dependent on articles and findings of different organization but also includes first-hand account of the people who volunteered with an NGO involved in providing shelters to the urban homeless in Delhi under the DUSIB Scheme for providing shelter facility. The paper starts with putting forward facts about the existing Night Shelters in Delhi and a brief background of the two people interviewed as a part of my research.
RAEN BASERA (NIGHT SHELTERS)
With 197 permanent and temporary shelters, 40 tents have also been installed. The graphic below provides the number of permanent and temporary shelters to serve people with different needs.
The Government with its limited resources and workforce is unable to keep patrolling the entire capital and trace out such destitute and pavement dwellers. Therefore, a unique solution for increasing the patrolling capacity was devised, by inducting student volunteers and giving the responsibility of running the shelters in the hands of the NGOs. With a view to ensure effective management and to assess the needs to improve the conditions of all the night shelters, a roaster of duty of inspections is prepared with shelters and areas assigned to Deputy Director, Assistant Director and head clerk.
Since 2000, nine surveys – including one by the Commissioners of the Supreme Court, put the number of homeless between 52,000 and 2, 46,000. Around 22,000 check into shelters each night and the rest sleep on road sides and in parks.
PEOPLE INTERVIEWD AND THE NGO THEY WORKED IN:
Kabeer Sharma, 20 of Venkateswara College and Anushka Bhanot, 21 of Lady Shri Ram College, University of Delhi had volunteered at Humana People to People India Organization (HPPI) last year in December. The Organization, in collaboration with Samajik Suvidha Sangam (Mission Convergence), Government of Delhi aims for social improvement of homeless citizens of Delhi through their Homeless Resource Centre Project (HRC) in East and North East Delhi. The project lays emphasis on homeless site mapping, designing and providing sustainable, timely interventions for their social and economic upliftment of the people.
LIFE IN THE RAEN BASERAS
Delhi’s homeless who come to avail the facility of shelters are of many types. Some live alone, some work and return to shelters only to spend the night. Many are jobless and depend on Samaritans who visit shelters every day to distribute food. Many men lie to their families about having their own home in Delhi. Some families have lived in shelters for more than 10 years. Not all homeless are beggars, drug addicts or criminals. Not all beggars are homeless either. Every person had a different reason to come to the shelter and a different problem to deal with.
- Number of shelters versus number of homeless in Delhi: as evident from the facts stated above the number of night shelter facilities falls short to accommodate an ever increasing homeless population. 197 shelters available have the capacity of 19,000 people only, while the number of entries daily range up to 22,000, indicating that these shelters are already overcrowded. Plus, majority of homeless population still spend their nights on the streets or in open spaces.
- Night Shelters exclusively a winter facility: as per an RTI filed, seeking details about the summer action plan for the homeless, it was found that no such plan exists. Even the news organisations remember the homeless only in winter and come to night shelters for a photo shoot. The rest of the time, they are forgotten by the first as well as the fourth
- Women in the night shelters: “So there are two types of volunteer workers, one who look after the daily needs and basic facilities at the night shelter and the other ones roam around the assigned area to find and relocate homeless people, I worked in the Bangla Saheb shelters for women, during the day time.” Anushka continues as she shares her experience of volunteering, “ HPPI was successful in providing sanitary facilities like; clean sanitary towels, proper toilets etc to the ladies even though maintenance of the facilities was in their hands but safety of ladies was the main issue in these shelters. Though there was one guard but he was of no help in protecting the girls from the ruthless men who could come in anytime and molest and assault anybody at anytime. Almost every single day such a thing was evident, but the victims were not able to do much about it as neither the police nor their own loved ones took them seriously.”
In general shelters, one does not know the identities of the homeless men. They could be drug addicts or those with shady background. Having them in the same compound is a mistake. Every shelter has a caretaker who maintains entry records but backgrounds are not checked before entry. NGOs managing the shelters cannot refuse accommodation to anyone, according to government rules. Most women said that nights are especially difficult. Imagine walking to the toilet and having to pass by a crowd of drunken homeless men smoking outside their shelter. This is what we go through every night. There are several cases where women said they complained to the police about men drinking in their compound. But there was no response. In Bangla Saheb area itself 6 out of 10 girls were victims of sexual assault but only 3 of them went forward to report to the police, but none were looked at seriously.
- Night shelters more like drug camps: “Men, women, old or little kids, some had just learnt the ‘ART’ of injecting syringes while some were on the verge of ending lives because of it, but even death didn’t stop them from using it and they injected drugs till their last breath. Every day almost 4-5 bodies are found unidentified, beyond recognition they are horrifying sites for all.” Kabir on drug problem in the shelters.
At least 9 homeless deaths are reported across Delhi every day. Most die of drug addiction. In 2005, the number of unidentified bodies in Delhi was 2,202. In 2015, this figure rose to 3,285. Several de-addiction schemes were started but even they were misused by the people. “We had caught several people stealing large quantities of Amvil and Addnok tablets from the backside; to stop one kind of urge they had adopted another urge only, SAD!” Kabeer.
Police can do little to prevent the use of this drug as the Law does not give the provision to arrest a person caught injecting medicines because he/she is not taking any psychotropic substance under the NDPS Act.
- Third gender: The actual homeless: Supreme Court had given the third gender an equal status, but little has been done at the ground level. “I didn’t come across with any transgender in the shelter; maybe they didn’t disclose their real self or didn’t turn up only.” Anushka told and Kabeer too had the same experience.
The Delhi government has shelters for men, women, family, children, disabled, pregnant women and drug addicts but none for the transgender. Most transgender cannot sleep on the roadside and the parks. They either assaulted or molested or the cops beat them to force them to move to night shelters and even in the shelters the condition is no different.
Anjaann Joshii, executive director, SPACE (Society for People’s Awareness, Care and Empowerment) who has worked on problems of the third gender, said “they literally die on the streets. Many who can afford Rs 30-50 a night for a cot sleep in an open compound with other homeless in properties owned by private individuals. The rest change into men’s clothes and sleep on the roadside.”
Also, these people neglected by the society have no means of livelihood because of which majority of them sought to begging.
Steps are being taken by the existing government in Delhi to prepare for the homeless this winter. Last year (2015) an app developed by Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) for rescuing homeless people was launched that enabled people to click pictures of homeless people sleeping out in the night and send it so that they could be rescued and sheltered. This year the government is planning to setup Mohalla clinics near 4 night shelters too. Other than this safety, health facilities in the existing shelters should also be improved and there should be regular surveillance with strict actions to control criminal activities in the shelters. Right to housing and life is for all keeping with this, the third gender should also be made a part of the night shelters and night shelters should be a summer provision as well, because homelessness is not a seasonal problem and to solve this problem action should be constant and regular.